A GUIDE TO SUCCESSFUL EMPLOYMENT FOR INDIVIDUALS WITH AUTISM

Reviewed by Margaret Farrelly

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A guide to successful employment for individuals with autism is an essential text for all professionals and services providers involved in addressing the vocational and occupational needs of adults with autism.

The book is clearly written and has detailed examples and case histories of people with a variety of severe cognitive and behavioural challenges in addition to their autism, matched to the types of assessments and employment solutions that were found useful.

In his introduction to the book, Professor Paul Wehman states ‘the time has well passed for individuals with Autism to be sitting in segregated schools, residential facilities, or adult activity centers all day long performing meaningless tasks.’

The book begins with an overview of the condition, highlighting the characteristics that have particular relevance to vocational planning for this group, e.g. specific deficits in socialisation, atypical responses to sensory stimuli, resistance to change, visual-motor skills, levels of learning disability, their particular styles of learning, savant skills, rituals and compulsions and communication patterns (both at the functional and pragmatic level). The need to match the above characteristics carefully to the job requirements, as well as the social and physical environments of the workplace, is seen as pivotal to the success of a job placement. To this end, Chapters Two and Three outline the vocational planning, job-search and job-placement processes, drawing attention to the types of vocational assessment used, their advantages and disadvantages and the methods for assessing and evaluating the types of on-the-job support required.

The skills and expertise of the job coach are a key feature of the supported employment programme. From the many examples and case histories throughout the book, it becomes clear that the job coach needs to be highly trained and well supported by the programme team as the duties range from task analyses (before the person with autism starts the job), instruction, implementation of behaviour support plans, social skills training, instruction on using public transport or bringing the person to and from work, keeping data on positive and non-contingent reinforcement schedules, auditing the social environment and teaching the person these skills often on a daily basis, negotiating the communication environment and managing dangerous behaviours.

Following a chapter on ‘Strategies for solving problems at work’, the reader is brought through the various types of employment where people with autism have been successfully employed e.g. manufacturing, retail, printing, food service, warehousing, delivery and jobs in government. A vignette is given of each example, describing the job, the task, a pen picture of the person, the equipment used and the modifications to the site and/or task, as well as the specific duties of the job coach in each case.

The authors conclude by reflecting on the future participation of people with autism and severe cognitive and behavioural challenges in ordinary work and, while acknowledging that supported employment for this group is still in its infancy in the United States and that this sample is by no means representative of the norm, they are confident that with the right kind and levels of support full-time employment can be a reality for the majority.

In Ireland, supported employment as a concept in the disability field is gaining recognition. This book will be a good practical guide to the many professionals who are now embarking on new models of vocational support.

A GUIDE TO SUCCESSFUL EMPLOYMENT FOR INDIVIDUALS WITH AUTISM by Marcia Datlow Smith, Ronald G. Belcher and Patricia D. Juhrs (1995, 2nd printing 2000). Paul Brookes Publishing Co., PO Box 10624, Baltimore, MD21285-0624 (www. brookespublishing.com). Available from Jessica Kinglsey Publishers, address above, price Stg£27.75. ISBN 1-55766-171-5.

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